Dry weather combined with extreme heat lit the match, setting off several wildfires in the western United States — from California to Oregon to Washington State. The good news is that the Inflation Reduction Act dedicates resources to fighting those flames — money targeted to saving trees.
America is now rescuing its forests — the natural weapon to soak up heat-trapping emissions and combat climate change. The newly-passed law also creates urban canopies to keep cities cooler, lowering energy costs and saving lives. But this issue is more extensive than in California. It’s worldwide, requiring some heavy-hitters in the corporate universe.
“People cut down trees not because people are evil; they do it when the incentives to cut down trees are stronger than the incentives to leave them alone,” writes Bill Gates, Microsoft
Corp.’s founder and author of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. “So we need political and economic solutions, including paying countries to maintain their forests, enforcing rules designed to protect certain areas, and making sure rural communities have different economic opportunities so they don’t have to extract natural resources just to survive.”
The solution that Gates is intimating already exists. REDD+ rewards a country for maintaining its forests and is a nature-based remedy. The Paris agreement adopted that financial mechanism in 2015. Governments oversee and monitor their entire country’s forest lands. They can then sell carbon credits to countries or companies so they will not have to use the land for timber or agriculture.
The United Nations reported that higher temperatures and changing land patterns lead to more wildfires and polluted air. Climate change causes warmer weather and more prolonged droughts that start wildfires. Fifty scholars from 6 continents conclude that without severe mitigation, the risks of dangerous wildfires increase by 57% by the century’s end.
The Inflation Reduction Act provides about $5 billion for conservation and sustainable forestry. The law provides $1.5 billion for urban canopies to cool cities, which is necessary: A Duke University study says heat-related deaths total 12,000 yearly. The Audubon Society says the act will also allocate $450 million so that private landowners can manage their properties and protect forest ecosystems, which are the natural habitat for wildlife.
Fighting Fire With Carbon Credits
Take California, where wildfires destroyed 2.5 million acres of land last year: Regulators issued 231 million carbon credits, allowing companies to exceed emissions limits while claiming to be carbon neutral. Companies such as BP and Microsoft are buying the credits to preserve the forests. But forest fires since 2015 have killed many trees. That has enabled the release of 5.7 million to 6.8 million tons of carbon, according to the CarbonPlan.
The National Interagency Fire Center defines a wildfire as any large blaze that destroys at least 100 acres of timber or 300 acres of grassland.
“The Inflation Reduction Act sets a precedent for the U.S. in strengthening the huge carbon sinks of its forests and agricultural lands,” says Federica Bietta, managing director of the Coalition for Rainforest Nations that devised REDD+. “It recognizes and directly invests in farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on the frontline in the battle against the climate emergency. Equally important, it seeks to make America more resilient to the forest fires that plague this country yearly.
“Combined with the tropical rainforests in Latin America, Africa, and Asia-Pacific, American forests and land provide a huge climate solution,” she adds. “We’d love to see President Biden go beyond the new law to support tropical rainforest nations with their conservation — through various mechanisms under the Paris Agreement.”
At last year’s global climate meeting, rainforest nations generally pledged to reverse deforestation trends by 2030 — backed by $20 billion in direct contributions from public-private interests. But the purchase of carbon credits is also integral to hitting net zero targets at home and abroad.
Rainforest nations need an estimated $100 billion to ensure the survival of their lands. The carbon markets will raise some of that money. Microsoft, Deutsche Bank, BNP Paribas, Apple
e, Meta, General Motors
, and Walmart
are climate stewards and have the muscle to buy carbon offsets at scale.
The Inflation Reduction Act may be a catalyst for climate cures in America. But this country’s policies are limited and represent a slice of the international mosaic. That’s why Bill Gates’ voice carries a lot of weight — words that can echo globally and can cause countries and companies to take life-changing action.